EMA senior traveling to London for ‘Can You See How I See’

Emerging Media Arts senior Trystan Nord is the technical artist for "Can You See How I See," an experiential multimedia experience that looks to build awareness of a medical condition called Palinopsia. Courtesy photo.
Emerging Media Arts senior Trystan Nord is the technical artist for "Can You See How I See," an experiential multimedia experience that looks to build awareness of a medical condition called Palinopsia. Courtesy photo.

Trystan Nord, a senior emerging media arts student from Gretna, Nebraska, is traveling to London in June for the opening of “Can You See How I See,” a graduate thesis project for Central St. Martens student Yoni Chepisheva. Nord has served as technical artist for the project.

“Can You See How I See” is an experimental multimedia experience that looks to spread awareness of the medical condition called Palinopsia, with which Chepisheva has been diagnosed. Palinopsia is a pathological group of visual symptoms in which there is an abnormal persistence or reoccurrence of an image in time when performing sudden movements or experiencing changes in the environment.

“Basically you see a bad blur effect whenever you move your head too quickly,” Nord said. “And the colors on all of these transparent before blurred images are reversed. I believe blue becomes pink, and green becomes purple. It changes the way she sees the world.”

Chepisheva recalled a story in 2020 when she was part of an astrophotography community that would go out late at night outside of London to take photos of stars and the Milky Way galaxy.

“Other friends would also take photos of passing cars because they’re going to experiment on this long-exposure effect,” she said. “And I’ve previously seen photos of trails on cars and whatever. And I always thought, ‘Why are people so fascinated about it? It’s just normal.’ So that night, this friend said look at how beautiful it is to capture the beautiful curve of the motion of the cars passing by. I think I killed his poetry by saying ‘Yes, but that’s how we see anyway.’ It was like an anecdote or a joke. But at the same time, we started going back and forth, and we realized we have two types of ways of seeing, and that’s when I realized I probably ought to look into this a little more.”

She had researched her symptoms earlier as a teenager.

“I noticed that every time I said something to friends and said look at the shape of this or look at the afterimage that you have, or look at how your face turns from white to blue or from black to green, people would say I don’t know what you’re saying. I don’t see this,” she said. “I gradually lost friends because people distanced themselves. I ended up marginalizing myself in my own one-person community, and I never understood why people don’t see that way.”

She later found a neuro-ophthalmologist who diagnosed her with Palinopsia.

“She said to me I can’t say too much about it because I was her first real patient with Palinopsia,” she said.

Chepisheva’s project aims to bring the struggles of Palinopsia to everyone through a mixed-reality experience. It will be on display at Central St. Martens from June 13-20. It has also been accepted to the Florence Biennial, an art exhibition held in Florence, Italy, in October.

Nord and Chepisheva met last summer when he traveled to London for the study abroad course “Story Abroad: Future Fictions, London, U.K.,” led by Assistant Professor of Emerging Media Arts Ash Eliza Smith and Megan Elliott, the Johnny Carson Endowed Director in Emerging Media Arts.

“Trystan and Yoni met and collaborated during our Story Abroad trip last summer in London where Stephanie Sherman and I were able to sync the Central Saint Martens’ Narrative Environments program with our UNL cohort,” Smith said. “We had multiple lectures, workshops and social gatherings with the students from CSM and UNL and opportunities to collaborate on a final project. Students expanded not only their international networks, but also their knowledge and experience with emerging media arts on the global stage. I cannot emphasize enough the value of these faculty-led programs, nor the support from the Carson Foundation, Hixson-Lied Endowment and Global Experiences to make this happen.”

The UNL students met with students from Central Saint Martens’ Narrative Environments program and had the chance to get to know each other’s interests.

“I think it was the first full day, we came in and saw their final projects for that semester,” Nord said. “After we see their projects, we went out to dinner with them, so everybody’s just sprawled around talking to those who catch their eye about projects and stuff like that. I started talking with Yoni because the project her group did was pretty interesting to me. And I talked about my interest in medical extended reality. And that’s when Yoni told me that she has this condition called Palinopsia. I said that’s such an interesting thing. I have worked in AR before, I wonder how you would do that as an augmented reality experience. And she said, for my capstone, I want to do something like that.”

They talked further about such a project and discussed what the parameters would be.

“And we really thought that this could work, and we could do this in a really fantastic way, and it kind of took off from there from just the idea to an actual project and now a full-blown installation,” Nord said.

Nord thought augmented reality would fit this project.

“I knew that kind of augmentation that augmented reality brings could be perfect for something like this and what Yoni was describing,” he said. “Being able to bring that and not only this is what Palinopsia looks like in a very separate experience that is removed from the body, but personally putting you in, giving you that condition and being able to fully immerse yourself into somebody who has this condition was a very interesting challenge.”

The technology also has limitations, though.

“Technology is advanced enough for us to bring forward this condition and make it visible, but we realize that even though it’s advanced, it’s not advanced enough in certain aspects to really bring out the realistic sort of symptoms of Palinopsia,” Chepisheva said. “Who designs technology and who makes it? It’s probably the majority of people, and they probably have normal vision. You don’t know about it unless you know about it. I think especially for Trystan, it's a good chance for him to address the lack of diversity and lack of options in technology.”

Nord said that was an interesting problem to approach, and what they decided on is that there were a few different ways to simulate the effects of Palinopsia.

“One of the first things the project presents you with is this large digital wall that is projecting whatever a camera is seeing and projecting it back on this wall at a certain delay with this kind of blurring and the inverted color,” he said. “People can come in and kind of play around to build intrigue. I can dance with myself or if I take a friend, we can spin in a circle.”

The next part of the installation is the augmented reality portion.

“It’s taken a lot of different iterations based on the technical challenges we’ve had, but right now, it’s going up to certain pedestals with certain items is going to propagate images that represent the effect. Translucent images represent the effect of the Palinopsia when you’re doing certain things,” Nord said. “For example, we want to do an eye test. We’ve all had experience with that, but then in a new light, what does that look like? Or reading a book.”

There will also be an element of sound design and spatial design.

“We want the emotional kind of track of this,” Nord said. “We don’t want you to be fully content the entire time. We want there to be an element of strange and discomfort.”

Finally, there will be a section where participants can debrief and get more explanation of what they were seeing and experiencing.

“We want people to have a mix of their real environment and virtual environment so they can actually experience how confusing it is to look at something and think this is where I can touch it, but I can’t,” Chepisheva said. “I think it will be super fun and super interesting.”

Smith is excited to see the project live in London in June, where a new cohort of UNL emerging media arts students will have a chance to again meet with students from Central Saint Martens and see the project.

“I’ve seen it go through several iterations and play tested with students at the Carson Center before going live in London,” she said. “I’ve seen the early concept designs, emotional mapping and experience design journeys, along with a depth of research. I am excited to see it live and in London. The timing could not be better to be able to see Yoni and Trystan’s show as the students continue to grow their artistic ecosystems globally.”

Chepisheva is grateful to have Nord on her creative team.

“I think Trystan was the first one to sort of know about it,” she said. “I remember showing him the symptoms on an app, and because he had the technical expertise, I knew he could do it.”

Nord has appreciated the experience he’s gained from working on such a project.

“I’ve gained so much experience,” he said. “Personally, just working with Yoni, of course, and learning about the condition of Palinopsia has been interesting in its own right and experiencing that. But also, I was able to gather a lot and learn about how to do an installation on such a grand scale.”

He had previously interned with Marshmallow Laser Feast last summer, but was able to build on that experience with this project.

“I was involved with Marshmallow Laser Feast, but I was just doing grunt work for that,” he said. “This was a chance for me to do more of the technical side and build more of that project. This was figuring out experiential storytelling and being able to take an audience through this emotional roller coaster. It’s not just a technical prototype. We are telling the experience of someone through the technology and through what we’re trying to get them to experience. I was excited for that kind of challenge.”

He also valued learning from Chepisheva.

“Working with Yoni specifically was really interesting because it was fascinating to meet somebody who has experience in the industry, who has all this ability and knowledge, and just take a little bit of that and learn from it,” Nord said. “This was a fantastic experience.”

Nord also hopes to bring his experience with the project back to the Carson Center sometime next fall.

“I love the EMA Center and how artists are allowed to show their work,” he said. “One thing I want to do next semester is either give an IGNITE talk to do a presentation showing what I’ve worked with Yoni on and show the students that these opportunities are out there. One of the reasons I’m so excited that Professor Ash Smith is bringing the Carson students that are going to London this summer to the opening of this experience is because I want to show people that even though we are in Nebraska, that doesn’t mean you don’t have opportunities. You have opportunities all around you. I had to go to London to find mine, but I got that opportunity through this school. As long as you put yourself out there for experiences and are willing to step out of your comfort zone, it’s out there. You can do it.”

Chepisheva is amazed at how far the project has already exceeded her expectations for it.

“A year ago when I started pitching the project for the final project for my major, I thought that was going to be it. It was going to finish in June and then go on holiday,” she said. “A year later, no, this is just the start. But it’s great to make such an invisible illness visible. And who knows, maybe 10 years down the line, the next group of creative students might get inspired by this, and they can create something even bigger. And one day there might be a cure for it.”

Nord sees the potential for the technology.

“I think for me the power behind this project really relies on where this deeply emotional experience and community is meeting the ability to bring that to the masses, and the ability to utilize this technology to not only create this cool optical effect for people, but to get them to think about it and see in a different way. It’s to get them to understand the emotions behind living day in and day out with this condition. That is where the power and excitement comes from. And I think other people are starting to recognize its ability to really have a true impact on people. There’s so much potential for this, and I’m so excited to be on the ground floor.”